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home : news : news Tuesday, January 16, 2018

5/17/2017 Email this articlePrint this article 
Local group restoring Clinton County's pioneer cemeteries

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

Ann Soenksen understands that some people simply don't see the sense in it.

Breathing new life into old cemeteries.

But as chairwoman of the Clinton County Pioneer Cemetery Commission, it is something she and her fellow commissioners feel is important.

Both to the history of the county and to the memory of people buried there.

After all, though their headstones might be knocked down and broken, and overgrown grass and weeds might shroud them from sight, the people who are buried there are exactly that.


Not having any regard for a person's final resting place is something Soenksen cannot abide.

"It's disrespectful," she said. "We're talking about people. ... Why shouldn't anyone care? I enjoy doing it, I guess because I care."

Gov. Terry Branstad recently signed a proclamation declaring May Cemetery Appreciation Month.

In that spirit, Soenksen talked about the restoration work the commission has completed so far on area pioneer cemeteries (where there have been 12 or fewer burials in the past 50 years), and what has yet to be done.

The CCPCC was established Dec. 10, 2007.

To date, the commission has refurbished 13 pioneer cemeteries in the county and has 10 more to go.

According to their mission statement, commission members, "envision the pioneer cemeteries in the county as public spaces that honor the families represented within them."

But Soenksen said, over the years, the commission has encountered cemeteries in downright dire conditions.

"We basically clean them up," she said. "But some of them are a disaster. There are weeds, trees, bushes, vines, you name it, growing everywhere. Sometimes, you can't even walk around. Some are worse than others."

In fact, in some spots, passers-by would have no idea a cemetery even exists.

For example, the Hess Pioneer Cemetery, along 13th Avenue North in Clinton, was one such spot.

That is, until the CCPCC came to its rescue.

The commission operates under the supervision of the Clinton County Board of Supervisors, which provides funds for people to mow the grass at each of the cemeteries and for stone restoration.

Soenksen said the commission works with Stonehugger Cemetery Restoration Inc., a company from southern Indiana.

The commission also rids the areas of trees that might be problematic.

Members even refurbish iron fences that surround some of the cemeteries.

"People with money in the 1880s would often put fences around the headstones," Soenksen said. "Now, a lot of them are bent and broken. So, we fix those, too. We work with Boyler's Ornamental Iron in Bettendorf."

While some people don't believe pioneer cemeteries hold much value, historical or otherwise, Soenksen said many people have helped the commission in its quest to preserve their beauty and dignity.

"Barber Cemetery south of Grand Mound is owned by Roger Green [of DeWitt] and his brother, David," she explained. "They helped us so much with that. A group of people helped us clean up trees at Old English Cemetery in Wheatland. And we have the greatest county supervisors. They're all for us."

This fall, the commission is going to clean up Hickory Hill Pioneer Cemetery, along state Highway 136 between Charlotte and Goose Lake, and McClure Pioneer Cemetery, located north of Charlotte.

Although the work can be tedious and often thankless, Soenksen said when it comes to restoring cemeteries, she and the commission aren't looking for credit.

They simply want to show honor and respect to those buried there.

"It's just really important," she said. "They're our ancestors ... maybe not mine, but they're someone's. We need to save the ones we've got left.

"When you see these stones aging in grass and moss and aren't even standing, then you see them all clean they really look neat."

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